Miners Fall Just Short of Upsetting North Texas, 27-24
Under the Dana Dimel regime, the word “improve” gets tossed loosely around press conferences, postgame practices and pretty much anytime you need a positive adjective to describe the UTEP football team on a weekly basis.
Not once has the team showed quite of an improvement as they did against the defending Conference USA Western Division Champions in North Texas.
In front of 12,809 fans, the Miners (0-6) fell short of any hopes for an upset, losing 27-24 and extended their losing streak to 18 games, but this loss felt different.
“We’ve just got to make more plays and eliminate turnovers,” Dimel said. “That’s the big thing for us right now, is the turnovers, and we’ve got to win the turnover game. And honestly we didn’t do that. So we’ve got to continue to work to do that and we’ll be a lot better off. We had two picks and they had none. So we’ve got to play a more clean football game. We had a bunch of kids making good plays and doing a lot of nice stuff. I was proud of the way the guys fought tonight and proud of their effort.
“I’m really happy with what they did out there. We were in the game with 17 of the guys in our two deep [at the beginning of the season] that didn’t play tonight. So the guys that we’ve got out there are fighting their tails off right now.”
Instead of hoping desperately for points, the Miners developed a steady offensive attack tonight, putting up 414 total yards of offense and showed promise in the passing game under senior quarterback Ryan Metz, who replaced starting quarterback Kai Locksley after he sustained an ankle injury against UTSA last week.
And despite the turnovers, some missed opportunities and defensive mishaps, the Miners were one play away from upsetting a tough North Texas team.
They had the ball with just under three minutes left in the game, down 27-24, with Metz at the helm of the offense.
On 4th-and-long, Metz threw a deep shot to tight end David Lucero, which skimmed his fingertips and fell incomplete. North Texas was able to run the clock out and lock the win for the Mean Green.
“It was close, it was right there,” Dimel said. “It goes down to a lot of plays when you have a close game like that. But we were right there again. David made a great effort and almost pulled it in. It was a really, really tough catch. He had it for a second and it would’ve been a heck of a play if he had made it.”
The Miners opened the game with a nine-play, 55-yard drive capped off by a 37-yard field goal by Jason Filley. Later in the first quarter, North Texas responded under standout quarterback Mason Fine, who hooked up with Jaelon Darden for an 18-yard touchdown.
In the second quarter, Metz was able to orchestrate an eight-play, 82-yard drive ending in a 29-yard touchdown pass to running back Quadraiz Wadley. North Texas hit two field goals—from 52 and 29 yards out, respectively—to close out the first half.
But the first half numbers were really surprising. UTEP beat out North Texas, an air-raid team, in passing yards (164-134) and total offense (218-217) throughout the opening half. They held Fine to completing just 9-of-19 passes to start off, but Metz threw a pair of interceptions in the first half.
“I think Metz did a really good job of finding open receivers and doing some things,” Dimel said. “We were trying to match our personnel to what guys do best, and Metz can throw the football.”
To start the second half, North Texas had a long, near eight-minute drive that resulted in a 29-yard field goal. They got the ball back immediately after the Miners turned the ball over in UNT territory and put together a 13-play drive that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown shovel pass from Fine to Rico Bussey on a 4th-and-short situation.
Then the Miners started to surge back. The offense compiled a 12-play, 90-yard touchdown drive, sparked by a 42-yard reception by senior wideout Warren Redix. Having his career-best seven catches for 131 yards, Redix made a significant impact in the game.
“We didn’t even think Warren was going to play, and he really had a great week and sucked it up,” Dimel said. “He was a game time decision and did a really nice job. All the receivers stepped up and made some plays today. I was excited about that.”
North Texas was able to score with just under six minutes on a 20-yard run by Nic Smith, and although the Miners were able to get a 67-yard touchdown pass from Metz to Keynan Foster, they couldn’t orchestrate a game-winning drive at the end of the game.
“We’re so close each week,” said Metz, who finished the night with 313 yards through the air (16-of-33) with three total touchdowns and two interceptions. “We’re not getting wins. I think the ball’s going to bounce our way and when it does, we can be really dangerous.”
The Miners will enter their bye week hoping to get healthy, fine tune their product and recruit, per Dimel. They will travel on the road to take on LA Tech on Oct. 20.